Bush offers incentives to reduce pollution voluntarily as alternative to harsher Kyoto accord

Thursday, February 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush is proposing an array of tax incentives to encourage businesses, farmers and individuals to reduce pollution as an alternative to an international global warming accord he said would hurt the U.S. economy.

Bush last year rejected the Kyoto Protocol, which required 40 industrialized nations to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions _ the so-called greenhouse gases believed to cause global warming.

He said the treaty _ worked out by the Clinton administration but not ratified by the Senate _ could cost millions of American jobs. The pact commits industrial nations to roll back greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels.

An administration official said Thursday that Bush's proposal would slow the growth in such emissions ``within the ballpark of what Kyoto participants will achieve.'' The plan could be used as an alternative for countries that reject the Kyoto treaty, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Bush seeks to draw more businesses into a registry of companies that report their greenhouse gas output to the government. They then could trade newly created credits with each other, much as they can under Clean Air Act provisions aimed at curbing acid rain.

Currently, just 222 companies, mostly electric utilities, register and report. The Bush administration does not have a firm goal for how many businesses it seeks to attract to the program.

``This new approach will harness the power of markets, the creativity of entrepreneurs, and draw on the best scientific research,'' Bush said in remarks prepared for delivery Thursday at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

One incentive to join would be a guarantee that businesses could use the credits in any future system. In addition, Bush said the government in 2012 would re-evaluate its success in cutting greenhouse gases and consider a new, possibly tougher system.

Bush says that maintaining and improving about 80 other programs can also help slow greenhouse gas emissions. Through tax incentives, he would urge farmers to plant carbon dioxide-absorbing trees, consumers to buy hybrid and fuel-cell cars and solar water heaters and industry to capture methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from landfills.

He also would use tax breaks to encourage wind and ``biomass'' energy generation, in which burning grass, trees and waste produces electricity.

The president's proposed budget allocates $4.5 billion for global climate change-related activities, a figure the administration said would be a $700 million increase.

Bush would direct his Cabinet secretaries to lean on those they deal with to make ``real commitments'' to cut greenhouse gases.

The administration is setting a goal of cutting by 18 percent a statistic that compares greenhouse gas emissions with gross domestic product. That measure fell by an average of 1.6 percent a year during the past 10 years, according to the government's Energy Information Administration.

The Environmental Defense Fund dismissed the 18 percent goal, saying it guaranteed greenhouse gas emissions would grow as long as the economy did.

In a separate effort, Bush also seeks an ``unprecedented'' reduction in power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury, which the administration called the worst air pollutants.

This would be a ``cap-and-trade'' program in which the government would set mandatory ceilings on total industry output, and let companies earn and trade credits.

He steered clear of regulating power plants' output of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases. Bush had promised during his presidential campaign to regulate carbon dioxide from power plants, but reversed himself last year.

Dan Becker, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, said linking greenhouse gas output with economic activity would be ``nibbling around the edges'' of the issue.

``This is a series of voluntary steps that are linked to the health of the economy in a way that makes America a fair-weather friend of the global climate,'' Becker said. ``When the economy is booming, we'll do something modest; when it isn't, we'll dump global warming over the side.''